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October 14, 2014

Nothing cloak and dagger about sale of paintings

Nothing cloak and dagger about sale of paintings

Maharashtra andHaryana are going to vote tomorrow. Naturally today is a good day forsome political parties to “feed news” to the media, without putting across theother side's point. 

As if on cue,a leading English daily's front page today carried the storyof Mamata Banerjee allegedly having made personal gainsby selling her paintings to Sudipto Sen, the promoterof Saradha.

Neither Mamata Banerjeenor the Trinamool Congress was contacted for even a quote. A biased,tendentious, one-sided report was carried in violation of all journalisticpretensions of balance and fairness.

The story isnot just mischievous, it is absolutely false and makes baselessarguments. Here are the facts:

1. Sale ofpaintings

Mamata Banerjeehas not sold a single painting on her own or for personal gain in herlife. Not a paisa from the sale of her paintings has gone into her personalaccount.

She has donated herpaintings to the Trinamool Congress, which inturn, has hosted public exhibitions under the umbrella of Jago Bangla,the official newspaper of the party. At these exhibitions, some of herpaintings have been sold but the proceeds have never gone to her.

  • The firstsuch exhibition was held in 2005. Paintings were pricedat Rs 10,000-20,000. The second exhibition was held in 2007.Paintings were priced at roughly Rs 100,000. From theproceeds of these and subsequent exhibitions/sales, contributions of Rs 1crore were made to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund, Rs 10 lakh tothe Governor's Relief Fund. Assistance was also provided to the victims ofpolice and CPI(M) brutality in Nandigram and other places.
  • The third exhibition was held in 2011. Artworks apart, 127,000 picture postcards and 10,000 catalogues were sold at Gallerie 88 in Kolkata. The paintings were priced by the organisers, JagoBangla, at Rs 2-3 lakh. Jago Bangla decided to give some of these proceeds to charity and the rest towards funding Trinamool Congress candidates for the assembly election in West Bengal. 
  • In October 2012, one painting of Mamata Banerjee was donated for an annual auction that takes place in New York to benefit Children's Hope India. The painting was sold for Rs 1.39 lakh to Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York. The purchaser paid directly to Children's Hope India.
  •  The fourth exhibition was held in January 2013. Paintings were on display at the annexe building of the Kolkata Town Hall. They were marked at difference price points: Rs 3 lakh, Rs 2 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh. 
  • All payments for paintings sold at these exhibitions were made by cheque to the All India Trinamool Congress or to Jago Bangla. The payments were reflected in annual income tax returns filed by these organisations.
Didi painting during her leisure time

2. Electoralreforms

For about 20years now, Mamata Banerjee has been urging electoralreforms and the need for proper and legitimate funding of politicalparties, including but not limited to state funding. She hasfrequently advocated redressing the “bad ways of raisingfunds”. Those who know her appreciate that she has a history of pushing forinstitutional solutions to politically troubling problems.

  • On November 6,1995, Mamata Banerjee sat on dharna to protest against theatrocities committed by the police during the CPI(M) regime. The policewas charged with at least 188 custodialdeaths. Mamata Banerjee sought compensationand financial security for members of these 188 families. The agitationwas on for over two weeks, between November 6 and November 23.
  • Themovement took off at the state level but was heard inthe corridors of power in New Delhi. It was at the interventionof the then government at the Centre that a consensus was reached.The result was the setting up of the West Bengal Human RightsCommission on December 1, 1995. It was a landmark achievement, and allcredit went to Mamata Banerjee.
  • Mamata Banerjee haschronicled her experiences of the Manobadhikar Dharna,as the episode came to be known, in her book Janatar Darbar.

3. And finally

Art exhibitionsare open to all. The sale of paintings is an innovative and honestmeans of raising funds for a political party and for political andsocial activism. There was and is nothing cloak and dagger aboutthese transactions.

Theexhibitions have taken place in full public view and all theinformation regarding the sales is in the public domain. Money was receivedby cheque,and all payments have been duly and faithfully reported to the tax authoritiesat the end of the given financial year.

Statement issued by Derek O'Brien, National Spokesperson and the Chief Whip of Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha.

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